Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

the conviction, that our admiration partook very largely of enthusiasm, has had the effect of alarming our reason, and putting it upon the task of separating, comparing and combining all the evidence we could find upon the subject; and the result is, that though we firmly believe Mr. Garrick to have possessed talents to perform more characters better than any man that has lived since Betterton, or perhaps before, we cannot think, as some do, but that his excel. lence, like every thing in this world, must have had its limits; and that to conceive what perfection man can attain in the art of acting, it is not absolutely necessary, as many assert, to have seen Mr. Garrick. On this subject we can now argue only by analogy; and a very assiduous investigation, protracted through years, impresses us with the belief that ample justice may be done to this great actor, even by diluting very considerably the highly rectified enthusiasm with which his acting has been described and is constantly contemplated.

In Mr. Garrick's private character the judicious and candid biographer has a difficult track to steer between the plethora of panegyric and the malice of satire, by which that worthy man may be traced through the publications of the last sixty years. In this article we are happy to say that it is as clear to us as the sun at noon-day that the balance was greatly in his favour.

Hitherto nothing has appeared having even a remote tendency to adjust those differences, or to represent this admirable man in the simple garb of candour and truth. From the nature of the circumstances, every attempt of the kind must now be subject to error-yet much may be done by resolute impartiality and patient investigation. With all its disadvantages, we will hazard the attempt; and we venture it with the less reluctance, because we believe it is the first of the kind that has been made.

Something of the sort is wanting, not only for the reasons already mentioned, but because the biographies of Mr. Garrick, which have hitherto appeared, are so overloaded with stage history, and so incumbered with extraneous matter, that few have courage to encounter the reading of them. Indeed his cotemporaries were so lost in admiration of his extraordinary qualities, that they seem to have forgotten what was due to probability; for fact itself, if it appear miraculous, ought to be hazarded with great caution, lest,

ng to outrage truth, it should shake the credibility of the historian. Having all the materials before us, without being subject to the witchery which fascinated all who knew Garrick, we can at least observe the instruction of the great Roman orator and poet, and steer clear of the marvellous:

Nil admirari prope res est una, Numici,
Solaque quæ possit facere et servare beatum.

a

David Garrick was born in Hereford, while his father was on a recruiting party there, in a house nearly adjoining the New Inn, in Widemarsh-street, which was lately, if it be not still, occupied by a Dr. Campbell. He was baptized (according to the register in All-Saints Church) February 23, 1716.

When about ten years of age, he was placed under the care of Mr. Hunter, master of a grammar-school at Lichfield; and it appears, that even at this early age he had conceived a passion for theatrical representations. When but little more than eleven, he formed the project of getting a play acted by young gentlemen and ladies. The piece fixed on was, The Recruiting Officer, in which little Davy performed Sergeant Kite, and one of his sisters acted Lucy. The ease, vivacity, and humour of Kite obtained for our young hero, even at that early period, the most ardent applause.

A short time after this, David received an invitation from an uncle, who was a considerable wine merchant at Lisbon; the invitation he readily accepted: but his stay in that city was very short: he returned, in the following year, to Lichfield, and was sent once more to Mr. Hunter's school.

In 1735, Mr. Samuel Johnson, of Lichfield, afterwards so celebrated in literature, and who was one of David's earliest acquaintance, undertook the instruction of youth; and Garrick, who was then turned of eighteen, became one of his scholars. The study of the classics, however, had very few charms for his volatile mind; the stage almost wholly engrossed his thoughts: and he had by this time actually composed several scenes of three different comedies. After a trial of six months, Johnson grew weary of teaching the classics to half a dozen boys; and lie and his favourite pupil, with a view of pushing themselves into public life, embarked together in the stage-coach for London, on the 2d of March, 1736.

On the 9th of March, Garrick was entered of the Hon. Society of Lincoln's-Inn, with a view to the bar. The study of the law, however, soon became irksome to a youth so disposed as we have described the subject of this memoir.

a

In 1737, his unclė left Lisbon, with an intention to settle in London; in which place he soon after fell sick and died. Before his death, his nephew David had ventured to insinuate to him, that he ought to make him some compensation, in his will, for the fruitless voyage which he had led him to make to Lisbon. The old gentleman seemed convinced of the propriety of the remark; for he left him 10001., while to the rest of his brother's children he left but 500l. each. With the interest of this money, David prudently placed himself under the tuition of the Rev. Mr. Colson, an eminent mathematician at Rochester. Though we do not find that his progress in the mathematics was very extensive, yet we may well suppose that, by the precepts of Mr. Colson, a habit of thinking and reasoning must be inculcated, which would afterwards be very serviceable to him in his journey through life.

During the few months that Garrick remained under the care of Mr. Colson, his father died; and his mother did not survive her husband more than a twelvemonth. Towards the latter end of the year 1738, David entered into partnership with his eldest brother, Peter, a wine merchant in Durham-yard. This union, however, did not last long; the dispositions of the two brothers were as distant as possible from each other:-David was volatile and gay; Peter methodical and sedate; and in the beginning of 1740, by the interposition of friends, the partnership was amicably dissolved.

Mr. Garrick now felt himself at full liberty to indulge that penchant for the stage, which was afterwards to immortalize his memory. Chetwood* tells us, that “ his facetious good humour “ gained him entrance behind the scenes, two or three years in

Drury-lane, before he commenced actor;" and it is certain, that he produced there his first dramatic piece (Lethe) in 1740, for the benefit of Mr. Giffard. Determined, however, at once to try his fortune on the stage, he went down to Ipswich, assumed the name Lyddel, and peformed in a strolling company there. The part in which he first appeared was Aboan, in Oroonoko; and the general approbation that he received during this excursion, very naturally encouraged him to pursue his plan in the metropolis.

With this view, Mr. Garrick tendered his services first to Mr. Fleetwood, of Drury-lane, and then to Mr. Rich, of Covent-garden; but, we are told, was rejected by both, as a mere country pretender!

• General History of the Stage, p. 158.

a

He then applied to his friend Giffard, at that time manager of the Goodman’s-Fields theatre; by whom he was heartily welcomed, and placed immediately on a salary of 51. per week. His first appearance was on the 19th of October, 1741; the part, Richard the Third; and he burst on the town with such a blaze of excellence, as at once established his reputation on a basis which was ever after to remain unshaken.

It may be worth mentioning, that, though his success at Ipswich had been so great, and his partiality for the profession was so rooted, yet upon his first entrance on the stage of Goodman's-Fields, he was under so much embarrassment, that for some time he was unable to speak. Another distress also befel him: for his vehement exertions in the first two acts, had rendered him so hoarse, that he began to despair of being able to go through the part. This diffi. culty, however, was happily removed by a person accidentally behind the scenes, who drew from his pocket a Seville orange, and persuaded him to imbibe the juice of it; which afforded him such effectual relief as enabled him to sustain the part throughout, accompanied by the most rapturous applause.—Mr. Dryden Leach, afterwards a celebrated printer, was the gentleman to whom our hero was indebted for this seasonable prescription.

During this first season of his theatrical career, he performed, besides Richard, the characters of Aboan, Chamont, Clodio and Bayes; and also produced the pleasant farce of The Lying Valet. So prodigiously attractive were his performances, that the theatres at the west end of the town were absolutely deserted; and Goodman's-fields, from being merely the rendezvous of citizens and their wives, became the resort of all ranks and qualities. Mr. Pope was drawn, by the general rumour, from his retreat at Twickenham; and was so struck with Mr. Garrick's acting, that he said to lord Orrery, who sat next him—"I am afraid the young man will * be spoiled; for he will have no competitor."

At the close of the season, Mr. Garrick went over to Dublin; and there increased both his fame and fortune. The next year, 1742-3, he performed, under the management of Mr. Fleetwood, at Drurylane; and the year after, 1743-4, at the same theatre. At the beginning of this season, he was involved in an unpleasant dispute with Macklin, who had joined with him in resisting the oppressions of the managers. It would lead us into too great a length for our limits to enter on the particulars of this quarrel, which soon extended itself into a paper war; but the reader, who is so inclined, may be fully satisfied by a reference to Mr. Kirkman's Life of Charles Macklin, vol. i. p. 277, or to Davies's Life of Garrick, 8vo. 1808, vol. i. p. 73.

At Drury-lane, Mr. Garrick continued till the year 1745, when he again passed over to Ireland; and continued there the whole season, joint partaker with Mr. Sheridan in the direction and profits of the theatre in Smock-alley. From thence he returned to England, and agreed for the season of 1746-7, with Mr. Rich, at Covent-garden. This was his last engagement as a hired actor: for at the close of that season, Mr. Fleetwood's patent for the manage. ment of Drury-lane being expired; and that gentleman having no inclination further to proceed with a business, by which (from his want of acquaintance with the proper conduct of it, or some other cause) he had considerably impaired his fortunc; Mr. Garrick, in conjunction with Mr. Lacy, purchased the property of that theatre, together with a renovation of the patent; and in the winter of 1747, opened it with the greater part of Mr. Fleetwood's company, and with the additional strength of Mr. Barry, Mrs. Cibber, and Mrs. Pritchard, from Covent-garden.

Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Johnson, on this occasion, supplied his friend Garrick with a most admirable prologue, which was spoken by the manager: it is, however, too well known to require insertion here.

From this time Drury-lane theatre, which had been so fatal to many adventurers, became the source of wealth and independence to both Garrick and Lacy, who jointly exerted their several abilities in the management of the undertaking, with a degree of har mony which did credit to their understandings.

Mr. Garrick had not been quite two years a proprietor of the theatre before he offered his hand in marriage to a lady who then lived as a companion with the countess of Burlington, and who still survives as his widow. She was, we believe, by birth a German; her parents lived at Vienna, and she appeared on the stage there as a dancer. In the year 1746, she came to England, and performed one season at Drury-lane theatre, by the name of Madame EVA-MARIA VIOLETTI. The union between her and Mr. Garrick took place on the 22d of June, 1749; and, we believe, no marriage was ever attended with a more uniform state of happiness.

It has been just observed, that Mr. Garrick commenced his

a

« AnteriorContinuar »